Friday, June 25, 2010

Interview with Uma Krishnaswamy

Uma Krishnaswamy, a freelance artist from Chennai, has illustrated for several leading publishing houses such as Penguin India, Puffin, Scholastic and Tulika. Her recent work has been for the delightful tale Out of the way! Out of the way! ( written by her almost namesake). The details in her drawings are enchanting and enhance the text each time you read these picture books. Most Tulika readers would also be familiar with her work in And land was born, The story of Tipu Sultan....


Let us begin with Out of the Way ! Out of the Way! How did you decide this is THE book that you will link up with Uma on? Are there any more projects you plan to undertake together?
I got a call from the publisher one day asking if I’d like to work on a book by Uma. I was taken by surprise and of course very excited about doing it because I’ve known Uma’s work and her, personally, for quite some years now.

So the collaboration didn’t happen quite in the manner that the question suggests. The author worked closely with the publisher and when I got on board the text had been more or less finalised. It was Uma’s story all the way.
My contribution, the pictures. Once we (publisher, Uma and I) agreed on the style which we’d thought would suit the text, I set about working on the pictures as I ‘saw’ the story. Naturally I was in constant touch with Tulika regarding the progress but we were fortunate that Uma made a trip to India in between. This gave us an opportunity to sit down together, review and discuss the pictures. A good thing because it gave me the author’s insight which is not always the case.

I hope Uma is listening....most certainly if she dreams up more stories for us to collaborate on.

How did you decide on taking up art as a career? What inspires you?
My sister, a good artist, encouraged my interest actively when I was young and even allowed me to dabble with her pots of paint! And later, my aunt took it further suggesting I study Art for an undergraduate degree. It’s thanks to both of them I thoroughly enjoy what I do and am today.
Anything can be inspirational. It’s what you choose to see that’s important. As far as illustrators are concerned there are so many fantastic ones like Quentin Blake, Pulak Biswas, Lisbeth Zwerger etc, and the world over, who will be inspiration for generations to come. I discover a new one every day thanks to the internet and it ranges from amateurs to well established artists.

Folk art is seeing a resurgence in India. How do you incorporate those elements into your work?
Folk art is dynamic, colourful and vibrant and very forceful; it demands attention. And though it has its set of norms, it lends itself to any story, traditional or modern, because its own roots lie in storytelling, concise yet artistic. It also has this enviable history of being painted on walls, parchment, cloth, whatever.

The resurgence that we see is because there was a need for us to develop our own language, to express home grown sentiments. The craft revival movement of Kamladevi went a long way in ensuring appreciation of our traditional and folk arts. But also a worldwide movement of ‘other’ art, a voice that continues to grow stronger, did change perceptions across the globe.

How do I use it? I love folk and other traditions for their sheer exuberance and freedom in terms of perspective, colour etc. I study the folk art in some detail and definitely work at matching it to the right story. Coming from a non-folk background I naturally come with a different visual heritage. The greatest joy is in mixing and matching these myriad elements. Just like mixing paints!

Do you use the same style of art – the Uma style- across books or does it differ? Can you ‘illustrate’ this…
Hopefully not! I much prefer to sing in different tunes! Having said that I must confess that most of us would have a particular way of expressing ourselves in the way we use line and colour.

When you collaborate with a writer, do they tell you the style/ content or do they offer you complete freedom?
Complete freedom cannot exist when you collaborate. There will be differences and you must have the strength and flexibility to accept it to produce what you believe is the best. I have not been involved, so far, in the concept of presenting a readymade package (author + illustrator + work) to a publisher. My work comes through publishers so I work almost exclusively with the art directors and editors. So suggestions and changes come from them. Unless I am working on a book, say a non-fiction title that needs the author to verify and authenticate what is being done.


Does it happen that a story is conceived by the illustrator and someone else authors it?
Not that I know of, because if the illustrator comes up with a story, he/she is most likely to write it as well, especially in books for the young.

How do you go about illustrating? Does one need formal training? If yes, what?
The usual way! Reading and re-reading the text all the time to catch those nuances and high moments that just ask to be made into pictures. I have an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Art that I believe has done much for my understanding and appreciation of the subject. I also know successful artists with no formal training, so there is no hard and fast rule here. But if you ask me a degree is worthwhile and one must choose to specialise in the field where one’s talent lies.

How is illustration targeting children different?
Well for a start the subject matter can be so different. It can range from a simple word or counting book to complex fantasy tales depending on the age group. The younger the children the more pictures happen and it reduces progressively as the text becomes denser. For younger children the pictures have to not only be attractive but also clear. The older they get more interesting details, not always found in the text, can be added and the pictures can move to becoming to more sophisticated images too. Children are very receptive and absorb much more than the adult mind is ready to.

What are your thoughts on Art Appreciation for children, especially since you teach art…?
Should be a part of the school curriculum, most definitely, as it is a natural extension of subjects such as History, Geography and the Life Sciences. History of Art is the social, economic and political history of a particular era and civilisation. It does not happen in splendid isolation.

What are your future projects and ultimate goal?
To be eternally involved in the study and practice of as many forms of visual arts as I can master, in myriad ways.

Uma has a master’s degree in visual communication from the University of Central England in Birmingham, UK. She was awarded the Charles Wallace Art Scholarship for the year 1997-98 tenable at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.

9 comments:

sandhya said...

Thanks, Uma, for a wonderful insight into the process behind illustrating a book. "It does not happen in spendid isolation." That was such a true statement.

Both the posts in the blog-tour have been very informative, Art. Thanks.

ChoxBox said...

Thanks Art and Sandhya. Loved reading this.

Shankari said...

Thanks for bringing us the lovely interview Art. It talks about a subject very close to my heart.

Uma, the illustrations are lovely and very lively!

ChoxBox said...

*Art and Uma!

Praba said...

Lovely hearing Uma's thoughts, especially on folkart and its resurgence. And on collaborating and children being receptive, couldn't agree more! :)

Thanks Art & Uma for the icing on the cake! :)

Tarie said...

Thank you so much for this illustrator interview! I thought the illustrations in Out of the Way! Out of the Way! were wonderful.

artnavy said...

I really liked being a part of this and the entire series brought out how much there is to a picture book!!

ashokscape said...

Uma's illustrations are truly works of art, each representing hours or days of painstaking work. She is an illustrator's illustrator, and I am still in awe of her work, just as I was years ago.

artnavy said...

Good to hear from you Ashok!
Am sure Uma will be pleased .

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